OOIDA members David and Sally Wilding from Clayville, RI, used Federal Express services weekly and paid by writing their Visa debit card on the air bill. That worked fine for sending paperwork to their carrier, until recently when they discovered their Visa account number had been misused. Interestingly enough, the card number was used to pay utility bills in Memphis, TN, the hometown of FedEx headquarters where their air bill payment was processed.
On June 5, while checking their business account online, Sally discovered suspicious charges for $187.93 on June 2 and $384.95 on June 4. Both payments were made to MLGW Payment & Links, which she later learned was Memphis Light, Gas & Water.
When she called the utility company, Sally got Link2Gov Corp., the utility company’s bill processor. Paul Hugg, a customer support representative for Link2Gov, told the Wildings their Visa account had been used to pay two utility bills, belonging to Pearl Lewis of 4122 Drowsy Lane, Memphis, TN, and Anna Mosley of 5349 Beaverton Drive, Memphis, TN. He then asked the Wildings if they used FedEx.
David Wilding said, “When we called the utility company and spoke to Paul in customer service, the first thing he said was, ‘Do you use FedEx?’” Hugg told the Wildings and Land Line of similar situations with FedEx customers.
“People have complained about numbers being taken from air bills and used in Memphis to pay utility bills,” Hugg said. “We have seen similar situations through our work with MLGW, the phone company and other utility companies.”
Sally immediately canceled the Visa debit card account number and contacted Fleet Bank about the problem. She also reported the problem to the Scituate (RI) Police Department, who then contacted the Memphis Police Department. The case is being investigated by Memphis Police and Federal Express’ security department, but neither would verify or release any information.
While investigators look for the culprits, the Wildings still are waiting for the money to be returned to their bank account. Although the utility company has made the money available for refund to the Wildings, the funds have not been returned to the Wildings’ bank account. The couple says the bank told them it could take at least 45 days to recover the money. In the meantime, the Wildings are out almost $600.
Since this incident, the Wildings have opened a business account with another parcel carrier. By opening an account, the Wildings no longer must write their credit card number on the air bill.
- Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
- Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry to what you’ll actually need. Don’t carry your social security card; keep it in a secure location.
- Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you are dealing.
- Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank checks and statements, old charge cards and credit offers before tossing them in the trash.
- Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
Minimize your risk by safeguarding your information
Identity theft has become the latest craze in crime. Chances are if you haven’t had your identity stolen, you know someone who has. Because of the devistating effect identity theft has on its victims, the Federal Trade Commission published in February 2001 a 27-page publication titled, “ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name.”
Identity thieves thrive on your personal information – your bank and credit card account numbers, your Social Security number, your annual income, your name, address and telephone numbers, and even your mother’s maiden name. They use this personal information to open credit card accounts in your name. Although you cannot completely prevent identity theft, the FTC says you can minimize your risk by handling your personal information “wisely, cautiously and with heightened sensitivity.” Here are just a few of those tips:
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
- Guard your mail from theft. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you’re planning to be away from home and can’t pick up your mail, ask your local post office to hold your mail until you can pick it up.
If you should become a victim of identity thieves, you can call the FTC’s identity theft hotline toll free at 1-877-438-4338 or 1-877-IDTHEFT.